Troy Davis is due to be killed by officials of the State of Georgia in only a matter of hours. He will be strapped down and receive a lethal injection. This death has now been approved by the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles. This State Board, members of who boast of their involvement in religious activities in their on-line biographies, exists in part to authorise the deaths of their fellow human beings. Troy Davis is just the latest to have his execution approved.
The deliberate taking of life as any kind of punishment is wrong at all times, and in all circumstances. It does not matter if the execution is widely publicised or if it is not. And it also does not matter whether there has been some effort at due process, or no effort at propriety at all. As George Orwell describes in A Hanging, perhaps his most brilliant and moving essay, there is an “unspeakable wrongness” about the judicial taking of any life. All executions are vile; each one is absolutely wrong.
Nonetheless, the case of Troy Davis is widely regarded as exceptional, and it has attracted international attention and condemnation. There appear to have been serious irregularities in both the investigation and at trial. It is said that seven of the nine witnesses at the original trial have now recanted evidence and that someone else has confessed to the original crime. All these disturbing factors are emphasised in today’s powerful editorial in the New York Times.
Today is now the fourth execution date that has been set for Troy Davis. Previously his life has been temporarily spared by operation of the criminal justice system. But there is only so far appeals can seek to check what seems to be an irresistible force of a process intent on ending life. And this is not some impersonal and abstract process: it is a sequence of decisions and non-decisions by identifiable people with moral agency.
Even if one adopts the horrific misconception of justice that a human life can somehow be taken as a punishment, this is surely not the sort of case where a person should be put to death. In the United States those in favour of capital punishment in principle (“as long as they are guilty”) are speaking out against its application in this particular instance. It appears a man will die when there are well-grounded concerns as to his innocence: the State of Georgia is just going to kill him anyway.
Amnesty International has a campaign site for those who wish to try and prevent this execution which I encourage you to visit. An email in support may even make a difference. They may be a last-hour reprieve. But it does look as if the State of Georgia will kill Troy Davis at its fourth attempt.
David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman. This blog also appears on Jack of Kent.